In this week’s RaiseAChild “Let Love Define Family®” series installment for Huffington Post Queer Voices, contributing writer Eric Criswell spoke with Raymond and Daniel Stazonne who, with their two sons Jacob and Cody, make for an all-American family, living in rural New York on a very cool farm.
Many gay and lesbian people leave their hometowns and head to the big city to find a fresh start in more inclusive neighborhoods like West Hollywood, San Francisco or Manhattan. But just as many have decided to remain in the places they grew up and create their ideal lives in towns and communities across the nation.
If you were to travel the rural roads and rolling hills in the middle of New York state you would pass by small towns and farms, main streets and diners filled with locals, churches and barns that have weathered decades of blizzards and heat waves. One of those farms, with goats, sheep, chickens and even a llama, is the home created by Raymond and Daniel Stazzone and their two sons, Jacob and Cody. An all-American family in a picturesque setting far from any big city lights.
Daniel talks about their decision: “We both loved where we lived and when we started talking about having kids and possibly a large family, it was clear that country living was the right choice for us.”
Ray adds, “It’s kinda perfect. I can’t imagine our life any other way. Everyone is involved with taking care of the animals, and I think it is very therapeutic for the kids, and for us. Plus, with over 25 acres there is plenty of room for walks in the woods, playing kickball, building snow people, sled ridding… the plan was always to have a home where the kids could run and play.”
Like most couples, the road to becoming parents was filled with hard decisions and difficult choices. Their initial thought was to have a surrogate, but that was costly and presented various legal issues. The couple researched options for adoption, both domestically and internationally. But during their journey, Raymond and Daniel discovered that there were so many children in their local community in need of a home and a family, that it just seemed like the right choice to follow the path of foster to adopt.
“We quickly came to the realization that we didn’t need our own baby,” said Raymond. “With our desire to have a large family, it only made sense to us that we open our house and lives to those who were already living closest to us.”
After fostering six girls, all sisters who were returned to their mother, they got a call about two brothers who were open for adoption and had been in the system since they were toddlers. They met Jacob, age 8, and Cody, age 7, they knew right away that it was the perfect match. The only thing they knew from the beginning was that all four of them were in search of the same thing, a “forever family."
Raymond recalls fondly, “I remember being so excited when Jacob, who was still in the foster system before they moved into our home, turned to me and said, ‘I know, I’ll call you Dad and him Daddy.’ It was so incredible and it was all both of us wanted; to be a Dad. We smiled and said it was a great idea!”
Once the two brothers moved in, they settled into their new home and the routines of life on the farm. A typical day consists of Raymond and Daniel up at 5:30 a.m. to do the barn chores and feed the animals. Then they get the kids up and ready for school around 6:30 a.m. Once the kids are on the school bus, Raymond heads to his job as a school administrator and Daniel begins his day of phone calls and meetings as a realtor, while also setting up the numerous appointments for the kids. At 2:45 p.m. the brothers return from school and begin their homework, and at 4 p.m. Daniel starts making dinner. By 5 p.m., Raymond has returned from work and they sit down for a family meal. Around 5:30 p.m. they all head to the barn for the evening farm tasks, then return for some dessert and family time, which can vary from board games, to movie night, to spending time reading, or their favorite activity: making homemade goat's milk ice cream! By 8 p.m. the kids are getting ready for bed, and it isn’t too much later that the dads are ready to call it a day.
Since they both wanted a big family, Raymond and Daniel began fostering two more brothers, ages 3 and 11, a few months ago. “Having a 3-year-old in the house has been very eye opening,” said Raymond. “Cody is no longer the youngest, and they get frustrated sometimes when the 3-year-old is acting like a 3-year-old, so there was an adjustment period for them, and for us. But, overall, it’s been a positive for everyone and we are looking to the future about growing our family officially.”
Creating their family wasn’t easy or without its judgements from the community. According to Daniel, “There are ups and downs -- days you just want to pull your hair out. It just is part of being a parent, but it is worth it. But, sometimes, dealing with other peoples’ prejudices can be very trying and tiring.”
“When we first started this process,” Raymond adds, “we had a list on a wall separating agencies into two categories, one that said, ‘WILL WORK WITH GAYS’, and the other that read, “HATES GAYS’. Unfortunately, the second list was longer, but the agencies that did work with us were very supportive through every step of the process.”
Daniel tells the story, “On the day the adoption was finalized, we walked out of the court house and decided to take our first official family photo. There were two women close by who started commenting loudly that they were disgusted by a system that would take kids from perfectly good families and give them to these ‘types’ of people.”
In spite of the sometimes vocal minority, they have found the community to be pretty progressive and supportive of their family. There are also more and more gay and lesbian couples in the area that are adopting and they arrange play dates with these other families.
“Prepare yourself” is Daniel’s advice. “You have to be ready mentally, physically and emotionally. Be realistic about what you can handle, and know that no matter what, providing a loving home for a child is always worth it."
When you are driving down a busy main street or through the backroads of a small town dotted with farm houses and tire swings, know that there are children in need, and you have the power to make a difference by giving of your time, making donations, or opening up your heart and home.
Recently, RaiseAChild lost a good friend with the passing of Alex Wexler. We extend our sincere sympathy to his family, lovingly featured in the Thanksgiving themed “Let Love Define Family®” series on November 24, 2015. RaiseAChild will long remember Alex for his kind heart and advocacy on behalf of foster youth and LGBT families.
RaiseAChild.US is the nationwide leader in the recruitment and support of LGBT and all prospective parents interested in building families through fostering and adoption to meet the needs of the 415,000 children in the foster care system of the United States. RaiseAChild.US recruits, educates and nurtures supportive relationships equally with all prospective foster and adoptive parents while partnering with agencies to improve the process of advancing foster children to safe, loving and permanent homes. Take the Next Step to Parenthood at www.RaiseAChild.US or call us at (323) 417-1440.